His name was Carl. What was his mother thinking? He was a little BOY, not a construction worker.
We went to the same babysitter, and our mats lay next to each other’s in the floor. He had an olive complexion and jet black hair, and water blue eyes.
I was a round, pale girl with permed Peter Pan hair and a gap in my front teeth, but he looked at me like I was a Hollywood starlet. No one had ever made me feel so beautiful. For my sixth birthday he brought me a hard plastic doll with hair and eyes the color of his. I named her Jennifer, and I imagined that she was a glimpse into the future of what our children would look like.
I loved her.
I loved him.
We were sitting underneath the picnic table on a Wednesday afternoon, smelling the wood stain and keeping out of the sunshine, when a slight blonde girl named Joni came running around the corner. She was supposed to be dressed to play outside, and I suppose she was…but to me she looked like a model in the JCPenney catalog. Her pants were perfectly cuffed, her hair was bright and long. She had pierced ears.
I hated her instantly.
The next day, Carl moved his mat at naptime.
It was never my intention to become someone I wouldn’t like.
Growing up in the ditches of red Mississippi mud, I was taught that happiness was a Sunday morning song, a memorized verse, and a pristine pair of white socks encased in patent leather Mary Janes.
I rode the bus home from school, and I remember the smell. Like pee and mud and the back of sweaty little boy necks. I remember the spongy stickiness of the plastic green seats, and the high backs that I used to write on with pencil erasers. The one family of four or five kids who always sat in the first two seats, and who wiped boogers on the backs of the seats…they left a lingering odor in those seats, so even after they got off the bus within the first ten minutes of the ride, no one sat there. No one wanted to smell the wake or look at the boogers. I sat in a seat about ¾ of the way back, and I didn’t talk to many people. I don’t know why.
The first few years of busriding, there was a girl, older than me, named Maria. She had huge hair and lots of makeup and she would write “Turk 182” on the fogged windows on rainy days. I never questioned what she said, what she wore, or why this obviously-in-high-school girl was riding the bus home from school instead of catching a ride with a friend, or even driving herself. I never even spoke to her. Years later, when she showed up at my church on my way out (during my faithless years, when I realized that perhaps the darkly-stained Baptist pews weren’t quite seats on the only passenger train to Heaven), I recognized her. I had wondered about her through the years. She had come into our church on the coattail of her husband, a man who’d made lots of money owning restaurants, taken lots of drugs in the process, and had finally decided to follow Jesus because, you know, that transition makes total sense. He suddenly became a huge spokesman for Jesus around our town and because it’s the thing that Jesus’ spokesmen do, where ever he happened to be, there she was. Maria would be sitting beside him in the folded-hand smiling Baptist wife position, and I often wondered if the Maria from the bus – the one who smacked her gum and smeared on frosted pink Bonne Bell gloss – still existed, and if she did, what did she think of Smiling Wife Maria? Is that who she dreamed of becoming? Was that what those days on the bus were leading to? What steps did she take to reserve this position for herself?
I wonder if she liked who she was then, and then who she became. She couldn’t have liked them both.
This is that special time of year, after all.
A year ago, I was blessed. Really, I was. And I knew it. Even if the day before Thanksgiving we came home at 9 pm to a darkened house…the power had been cut off, we couldn’t pay the bill.
By all rights, I should have had the kids that night. It was during the week, it was Wednesday, and they should have been with me. It was cold. It was so cold. Our little house stayed frigid most of the time, and without the power…it would have seen us all huddled on our bed wrapped in quilts and seeing our breath. But by a blessing the kids had gone for early Thanksgiving with Nana, and the cold cut only the two of us.
We wrote a check we knew would bounce to turn on power that we couldn’t afford.
I sat on the bed in the middle of rebirthed artificial light, and I cried for the Thanksgiving day we were going to have. False smiles and lies that pretended to be reality.
This year, we’ve passed many roadblocks and while I’m grateful for our electricity, I’m more grateful to be alive. This man who is now my husband has pulled me through one of the darkest periods of my life. The loss of a job I loved and that we depended on, the diagnosis of a restrictive handicap, and massive depression that I’m not even really sure he realized was there.
I’m blessed by my family. With every crayon drawing, every kiss, and every hug…I’m more blessed.
All my life I’ve wanted to write. And I do write, on a daily basis, but for some reason I never go far. I’ve thought of all sorts of reasons for this…maybe God doesn’t want me to write? Maybe I’m being haughty to think that other people want to read what I have to say? Maybe I’m lazy?
I just don’t know what to say, that’s the rub. When I read, I think, “I could do this. Totally. I’m better than this, and look, they have a book.”
I’m afraid I’m going to end up like some of the authors we get at the store…the ones who paid to have their own books printed and call themselves “author”. The ones who pride themselves on something that no one else found valuable enough to risk anything on.
Is that harsh? Good.
Things can change so much over the course of a year. And so many things can stay the same.
A sweet baby girl whose hair is longer, eyes are bigger, and whose staggering dramatics can leave you wondering if maybe, just maybe not getting that cookie REALLY DOES hurt that badly and maybe she should get it because look, look, those are tears. ACTUAL TEARS for a cookie.
Her whispered “Wuv you, Mama. I wuv you so much,” it could fix everything wrong with this world, if only we would stop and listen. I love her.
A growing-ever-taller beanstalk of a boy who could teach us all a thing or two about poker, corrects me when I skip words in his bedtime stories, and who has developed an affinity for Broadway musicals and bad knockknock jokes. He hurts for everyone and watches over us all.
God made him, truly, in His image. I love him.
A once-again moptopped answer to prayer who has loved me, angered me, and cared for me more in a year than most people get in a lifetime. Who, when I thought my life was on the verge of being nothing, reminded me that he was there with me and offered to share the rest of that life. Without whom I might not be here today.
Trips to the hospital, changes in plans, wedding rings, empty bank accounts, and desperate prayers for intervention…and it’s all made us stronger. He reminds me of all that I can do, both wrong and right. And he makes me glad to be where I am. I love him.
Will Ferrell: Well it’s Thanksgiving time! I love your new blazer! Your sleeves are pushed up it looks pretty awesome!